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Water bond may not float

With the deadline to get it on the Feb. 5 ballot nearing, 19 lawmakers are set to head overseas.

September 15, 2007|Patrick McGreevy and Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO -- Despite a looming deadline in an already contentious effort to solve California's vexing water troubles, 19 state lawmakers have planned to fly overseas on other legislative business by the end of next week.

Destinations include China, Azerbaijan, Germany, Argentina and Brazil.The Legislature has called a special session on water in hopes of placing a multibillion dollar bond measure on the Feb. 5 ballot. It normally would have until Sept. 27 to approve a measure to pay for new reservoirs to protect against drought. The measure also would address environmental issues in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta caused by the diversion of water to Southern California.

However, at least a quarter of the 40 senators are heading out of town, including six lawmakers leaving Thursday for a two-week official trip to South America, which includes a visit to Iguacu Falls and other tourist attractions. As a result, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata has concluded action needs to be wrapped up before Thursday to assure getting the measure on the ballot.

Meanwhile, nine state Assembly members are heading to China this weekend for a 12-day trip.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez is doubtful that legislators can work out a deal in three working days.

"Given the complexity and the billions of dollars involved, it's highly unlikely we'll have an agreement" by the deadline, said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Nunez.

Perata is not giving up hope.

"We've been having bipartisan discussions all year long on the topic of water supply and reliability, and so reaching a compromise by the 20th is possible," Perata said Friday. "I remain hopeful we can meet that goal."

The delegation to Brazil and Argentina is made up of Sens. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) and Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria). Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) is going just to Argentina, and Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) leaves Sept. 28 for Brazil.

The lawmakers are paying for their own airplane tickets, with some probably tapping political officeholder accounts, but localhotel, meal and ground transportation expenses are being covered in part by Fundación Nueva Generación Argentina, a nonprofit organization that promotes democracy and civic education.

The purpose of the official delegation is to "strengthen legislative ties with these two countries and to exchange information on a number of public policy areas, including but not limited to, high technology, economic development, energy and the environment," according to a statement by Perata's office.

Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) is leading a delegation including three assemblywomen to Azerbaijan and Germany on state business on Thursday, and returning Oct. 4. In Germany, the lawmakers will examine that country's universal healthcare system to see if there are elements that could apply to California, Kuehl said. In Azerbaijan, where a major oil pipeline is under construction, she said, "We are going to talk about women's issues and energy. It's a lot of work. It's not a junket."

The nine Assembly members are heading to China on a trip sponsored by the nonprofit California State Friendship Committee in San Francisco, which lists as its mission "promotion of international understanding."

The China trip will include meetings of predominantly Republican lawmakers with government and business officials.

Others are going out of state on family vacations.

Tracy Westen, chief executive of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said lawmakers may be able to learn something from these trips to other countries, but they should stay and deal with the serious problems facing California first. "Where are their priorities?" he asked. "Their priorities should be here in this state, not running off half way around the world."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently announced the cancellation of a trip to England so he could deal with pressing state issues, but he is not worried that the water deal will be jeopardized by the exodus of lawmakers next week, said spokesman Aaron McLear.

Westen also raised questions about the trip to China. Although Assembly members are paying for their own plane tickets, some representatives of special interests are tagging along.

Those making the trip include Jim Brulte, a former Senate Republican leader who works as a political consultant for California Strategies and Advocacy LLC, a firm that lobbies state government on behalf of clients including Lockheed Martin, General Motors, New York Life Insurance Co., Scientific Games International and Constellation Energy Group.

"Obviously any kind of advocate who goes along on a trip like this has a week to talk about issues with the elected officials and can develop relationships," Westen said.

Brulte had already left for China and did not return calls for comment.


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